Quick – Find Out About Some Platform Games…

Hopefully, hopefully, I’ll start looking at the basic design and development issues behind another ‘classic’ arcade game design pattern – platform games – in the next few days…

As with the Catch a Clown and Maze games, I’ll go through how to construct a game of that type in Game Maker, though if you are following along I hope you’ll feel confident enough to use my notes as a starting point for your own creative exploration of that game genre…

In preparation, I thought it might be an idea to flag up some background material to the classic arcade style platform games, and maybe even encourage you to start putting together a concept document for your own platform game. (The game I’ll describe will have a simple linear structure, but you might link to consider how the platform game could work using other narrative structures… ;-)

What is a Platform Game?

The ‘official’ Game Maker platform game tutorial describes a platform game as follows:

Platform games are very common, in particular on handheld devices. In a platform game you look at the scene from the side. The player normally controls a character that walks around in the world. This world consists of platforms. The player can walk on these platforms, jump or drop from one platform to the other, use ladders or ropes to get to different places, etc. On the platforms there are objects to collect, enemies to avoid or kill (often either by shooting them or by jumping on top of them), switches that can be pressed to open passages, etc. Also the player normally requires skill to jump over dangerous areas. In some platform games you see the whole level at once, but in most you see only a part around the character. In such a case, finding your way around becomes an additional challenge.

A reasonable introduction to platform games can be found here: Platform Game (Wikipedia). (Feel free to use that article as the starting point for a timeline history of platform games… if you do so, please make sure to post a link here if you do so…;-)

The Youtube user retrogamevideos has a wide selection of video examples of classic ‘retro’ arcade games; it’s well worth visiting as an ideas bank for your first Game Maker game in any particular genre (though you would be well advised to turn the sound down on many of the games!).

To get an idea of the mechanics of the classic arcade platform games, here’s part of a run through of one of the first games I remember playing- Jet Set Willy, on the ZX Spectrum, released almost twenty five years ago:

As you watch the movie, note how the opening screens are organised, watch closely for how the rooms are designed and how the player character moves (and how it is visually represented), and listen (if you can bear it!) to see how the sound is designed for the game. Having seen that clip, try to sketch out a simple game concept document for that game, that describes the platform game you’d like to develop (keep it manageable!).

The Game Concept Document

The first stop in the development lifecycle of a computer game is likely to take an original idea for a game and work it up it into a concept proposal that describes in general detail what the game is about. The concept proposal is the document that sells the game idea to a whoever is going to pay for it to be developed into a real game…

The concept proposal should have enough information in it to excite the reader, with enough detail to suggest how the game can actually be realised, without going into too much design or development detail.

The gamasutra article “The Anatomy of a Design Document, Part 1: Documentation Guidelines for the Game Concept and Proposal” by Tim Ryan suggests in the section Guidleines for the Game Concept that the game concept document should include the following:

* Introduction
* Background (optional)
* Description
* Key features
* Genre
* Platform(s)
* Concept art (optional)

Read Guidleines for the Game Concept and create a concept document for a platform game you are familiar with (or failing that, for a game for which you have watched a walkthrough video).

Start to think about the overall concept for a platform game of your own. As we work through how to build a platform game in Game Maker, you will be able to refine this document and use it as a guide for the development of your own unique platform game (hopefully!).

Feel free to join the Digital Worlds wiki on wetpaint, and add page there for your own game concept documents.

I have added a draft Game Concept Document template to the wiki; if you add a new page and select the Game Concept Document template, the page will be prepopulated with several headings that you might find useful for structuring your own concept documents.

(If you would like to take issue with any parts of the template document/suggest changes to it, please post a comment here…)

If you are itching to get ahead with Game Maker, you might like to start thinking about what ‘s actually likely to be involved in a technical sense in creating your own platform game… Alternatively, you might like to explore further how to keep the player engaged in a platform game, by considering the management of Difficulty in Dexterity-Based Platform Games, for example…

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7 Responses to “Quick – Find Out About Some Platform Games…”


  1. 1 Rebecca April 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    <>
    Listen? I don’t have to listen! The minute you mention that game, the soundtrack switches on in my mind. How many million times must I have heard that? Aaaargh – just can’t get it out of my mind…

  2. 2 Andy Mee April 4, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Is the music taken from “Fiddler on the Roof”?

  3. 3 Tony Hirst April 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Many platform games appeared on the first generation of home computers – such as my personal favourite, the ZX Spectrum, with it’s 16K of RAM as standard, or, if you were lucky, 48K.

    Trying to write games to fit into such a small amount of computer memory was a huge challenge, and required some very intelligent software design – and trickery!

    Today, with more or less as much computer memory available to you as you want, the programming challenges are different.

    But if you want to see how you might be able to write a platform game using not much computer memory at all, check out the following blog post, and play the associated game: Super Mario in 14kB Javascript [ http://blog.nihilogic.dk/2008/04/super-mario-in-14kb-javascript.html ]

  4. 4 Andy Mee April 10, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve also found this this interview with Matthew Smith (the creator or Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWmmMZlhcqU

  5. 5 Tony Hirst April 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Andy – thanks for that link; the clip is an excellent mini-history of why the ZX Spectrum was so important and how it inspired bedroom games programmers (who jumpstarted the UK games industry), as well as telling the tale of the origins of the Manic Miner and JSW games ;-)

  6. 6 Keith Drever November 1, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Yes the music is “If I were a rich man” from Fiddler on the Roof. I like the loo lid clattering in time to the music LOL!


  1. 1 The Process of Game Creation - the Game Design Document « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on April 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm

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